Hearts of Iron IV: Together for Victory review impressions

When Hearts of Iron IV first released, my review criticised the game’s selective historicity while praising its systems design and potential for alternate histories. The first expansion, Hearts of Iron IV: Together for Victory, focuses on improving the game by giving it more of what it already had — fleshing out already existing, working systems, but won’t solve problems that now seem endemic to the game’s systems.

Together for Victory focuses on the nations of the British Empire, giving more depth to the game’s political processes as it does. Nations that are controlled by others now exist along an Autonomy scale, giving a status ranging from barely-autonomous Puppet Government to cooperative and aligned Dominion. It gives a sense of political momentum to some of the game’s arrangements, acknowledging the complicated historical relationship that Britain, particularly, had with her colonies in India and South Africa. Without Together for Victory leading those countries into an alternate history plunged them into unwinnable wars. You can now see a communist revolution in India or a (very historically plausible) fascist takeover in South Africa. If you want to play as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or India, this is hands-down a must-have improvement on the game.

(A momentary aside: This game still looks great. A handful of new models for Commonwealth forces reminds me of that – very few grand strategy games look this good.)

Britain’s various colonies have all received new trees of national focuses, and it’s here that you see where iterative development is going to be a big boon for Hearts of Iron. Where before only the handful of Major Powers had these deep, meaningful ways to shift the game’s mechanics in their favor, now a handful of minor ones do too. These trees of choices funnel those nations towards interesting outcomes even when they’re not in the hands of players because, masterfully, so many of them directly affect other countries. Trees pointing towards communist or fascist takeovers help funnel the country into their respective major alliance. Despite a few finicky hiccups around when and where and how you break free, and some frustrating confusion about what you get to keep on your team when a revolution comes, these are mostly great fuel for alternate histories in the making.

The game is now more dynamic in the regions where the British commonwealth is present, with the AI happily making use of the various focus options – historical and ahistorical alike. Previously you could pretty well predict how things would go, but now new parts of the world get really weird, really fast. (I saw a fascist Canadian-Mexican alliance invade the United States, for example.)

The AI is actually generally better at the game, too, addressing one of the major problems with its release state. It’s far more capable of naval invasions, holding lines, and abandons its territories to capture far less often. Some of its more egregious problems, though – most notably declaring bizarre wars with non-aggressive powers – are still very much alive. Much of the game still feels divided between a straight-up strategic World War II game and a nuanced geopolitical simulation like Paradox’s other games.

These weirder problems, the systemic issues, are actually what really remains with Hearts of Iron IV. Despite Together for Victory’s improvements, it’s hard to get intensely excited about the expansion because it feels like incremental progress towards a much larger game. Giving focus trees to a handful of minor nations helps, but the majority of the world still feels deactivated and static. Adding nuance to controlled countries with an Autonomy system is interesting, but ultimately it’s a specific mechanic that affects just a portion of the world map – and really only affects it before the war starts. It’s not like you can peel away the Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia for yourself. They’ll just become more occupied territory until a peace is reached… at which point the game is pretty much over.

For the whole game to feel as full and interesting as, say, Europa Universalis or Crusader Kings, this game is going to need mechanics overhauls that don’t rely on methodically giving each country a tree of national focuses that channel it into interesting outcomes. Don’t get me wrong, the national focuses that got added here are great – but they create a system of haves and have-nots that cramp the game’s flexibility. Countries with a custom tree are interesting and dynamic, while those without are stuck waiting for a player to come along and invade them before something interesting happens. Just watch South America in nearly any game for the ultimate example of how this usually plays out.

If everything coming for HoI IV is like Together for Victory, it’s going to take three or four more expansions before the kind of tough, unpredictable experiences that Paradox is known for come to this one.